The first video game system that I owned was a Sega Genesis and the first video game I ever picked out for it at eight years old was Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It was an instantly gratifying experience as it combined speed, momentum, and timing with the occasional need for careful memorization. Sonic 2 allowed for alternate routes, exploration, and a wild secret hiding behind the special stages. As a youth it was thrilling far beyond the Mario games I had trudged through on my best friend’s NES and SNES. I could beat Sonic 2 in less than an hour by the time I had saved up enough money to buy Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, equally satisfying games. Sonic 3 added gigantic levels with labyrinthine paths so numerous I could spend a half hour or more in just the first two levels alone. There is a polished, complete and inspired feeling to those old Genesis games that has never been replicated afterwards, including the limo wreck that is Sonic Mania, which comes very close to greatness.
Sonic Mania is basically a 16:9 ‘hack’ or fan project with a big budget and production values. Remember when Project AM2R came to life and was polished, perfectly playable and ran well? They toiled for years to recreate Metroid 2 with Super Metroid aesthetics and the result showed true love of the subject matter. Sonic Mania is unique in that it replicates that same level of quality and retains the feeling and look of those Sega made Sonic games but without the continuity or artistry that made previous games classics. From the forgettable music, devoid of driving melody, to the slip-shod gimmick filled level design Mania is a slog to play through. The frequency of check points and secret stages clutter levels that never really embrace what made those other games great: Spectacle and ‘flow’ of movement that model level progression in clever ways. Oddly enough you’re tasked with revisiting iconic levels from Sonic 2 and 3 and each has been modified to provide some continuity with those core games. You’re running after Robotnik (I fucking refuse to call him Eggman) through your old haunts and that includes Emerald Hill, Hydrocity, Oil Ocean, Chemical Plant zones with ugly-ass changes to the soundtrack and level design.
Even though the fun of returning to the ‘good’ version of Sonic the Hedgehog was marred by inferior music and level design, I had fun playing through this game. Boss fights were often difficult to suss out resulting in having to continue at the start of the zone. Having to repeat Oil Ocean and Titanic Monarch (the two worst levels in the game) was incredibly frustrating. I rage quit and deleted the game after Titanic Monarch, though I did eventually go back and finish the game. I am rarely so frustrated by level design as I was while playing this game, in that sense this game does not do 2D Sonic’s legacy any justice. If nothing else, my recent experience with Sonic Mania and Ratchet & Clank have cemented a sort of defiance for nostalgia that wasn’t there for me before. With so many incredible new experiences coming out all of the time I don’t feel like pandering nostalgia video games are really worth time or money.
Sure, Sonic Mania delivers everything you could possibly want: Tons of extras, cheats, co-op modes, etc. but at the end of the day I already had all of this and was in better company snapping cartridges into Sonic & Knuckles back in the late 90’s. I would only suggest this game to folks if it is on sale digitally and with the caveat that it is nothing more than fan service for folks who had cried out for this stuff for decades. Even at $19.99 I felt like I would have been better served buying Sonic’s Sega Genesis Collection used for PS3 and replaying the classics there.
|Genre||Side-scrolling two dimensional platformer|
|Released||August 15, 2017|